phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Phrases, Sayings and Idioms Home > Discussion Forum

Re: Thirteenth stroke of the clock

Posted by RRC on April 10, 2008 at 22:17:

In Reply to: Re: Thirteenth stroke of the clock posted by James Briggs on April 10, 2008 at 09:33:

: : : : : Dear Forum Members,
: : : : : It is requested to kindly furnish the exact meaning of phrase/saying/ideom - "Thirteenth stroke of the clock".

: : : : I think to give an exact meaning would require some context. "Stroke of the clock" refers to the bell/chime being struck on the hour, i.e. a clock rings a bell once for each hour of the time. One ring = 1 o'clock, two rings = 2 o'clock, etc. Traditional clocks only mark 12 hours (after 12 rings, the next hour would have one ring), so the thirteenth stroke of the clock is when the clock announces an impossible time.

: : : One sense in which the phrase is regularly used was coined, I believe, by A P Herbert, the humorous writer on British legal matters. He compared a remark by a witness in a court case to "the thirteenth stroke of a crazy clock" - the remark was not merely unbelievable in itself, but proved the witness himself to be so completely unreliable that it discredited everything he had previously said. (VSD)

: : Another sense in which it has been used is the "magical" sense. So, in the children's book "Tom's Midnight Garden" (Philippa Pearce, 1958), the young boy enters the magic garden when the clock strikes 13 (an impossible and therefore magical time). While confirming my memory on that, I also found a mystery/suspense novel by Herbert Brean "The Clock Strikes 13" . And, probably because 13 is an unlucky number, there are also the horror uses - a band called "The Demons" has a song called "Clock strikes 13" and Emily the Strange (a character favoured by young goth girls) has a clock with a 13 instead of a 12. I should also mention, that in these uses "13 o'clock" is the impossible time which follows on from 12 midnight (also an unlucky time), not 13 o'clock in the sunny afternoon. Pamela

: More prosaically, it could just mean that the clock is broken. Context of your use would help here but it's possible to imagine someone describing a broken piece of equipment in the terms 'it's like the 13th chime of a clock' - I have a couple of old long-case clocks and they regularly chime the wrong hour due, I'm told by my clock repairer to just wear and tear and poor past servicing over the several 100 years since they were first made. I even have a mass produced 19thC bracket clock which reached 127 chimes on several occasions before I stopped the chimes!
: The 13th chime of the clock is one of the suggested origins for the saying 'saved by the bell' I think the boxing ring is far more likely, but the clock version goes something like this.
: "A guard at Windsor Castle in the Victorian times was accused of being asleep on night duty. He vigorously denied this and, in his defence, said that he had heard Big Ben (which is, of course, a bell and could be heard in Windsor in those days before traffic and Heathrow Airport) chime 13 at midnight. The mechanism was checked and it was found that a gear or cog had slipped and that the bell had indeed chimed 13 the previous night. He was truly Saved by the Bell."

Must be pretty loud up close to carry 22 miles even when there were just trees and birds in the way.

Q: What time is it when your clock strikes 13?
A: Time to get a new clock.